THE HOUSE and the Senate have now passed immigration reform bills that have the same objective but differ on some details and in the overall number of immigrants to be admitted into the country each year. The administration has expressed a strong preference for the Senate version of the bill, and three members of the Cabinet have said they will recommend a presidential veto if some features of the House measure are in the final bill. At this late date in the session, is it still possible to pass a good bill that will be signed by the president? It is, and that's what should be done.

This legislation, the first major revision of the law governing legal immigration since 1965, seeks to increase immigration by raising the numbers now available for family reunification and adding new slots for those without close relatives in the United States but who have special skills needed in this labor market. A side effect of creating this new category is that places would open up for immigrants from areas outside Asia and Latin America, where most of the close relative groups are now. Both bills accomplish these objectives. The House measure is somewhat more generous toward family members, particularly those related to permanent residents of the United States, as opposed to citizens, and authorizes 755,000 slots annually for legal immigrants. The Senate bill sets a ceiling of 630,000 a year, retaining much of the structure of current law with regard to preferences, and adds new slots for both relatives and skilled workers. Legal immigration is now about 540,000 a year.

There are a score of other differences as well, but they can be worked out in conference. The overall objectives remain to increase immigration levels above those in current law, to facilitate the reunification of families and to allow for more skill-based immigration, which in turn increases geographic diversity in the immigrant pool. The House, the Senate and the administration are all on record supporting these goals, and they can be achieved without risking a veto. It would be a great loss, after all the work that has been done on both sides of the Hill, if the conferees failed to reach agreement on a good bill because they couldn't achieve a perfect one. Both the House and Senate bills provide substantial reforms, and the conferees, working under severe time pressure, should be able to devise an agreement that can survive.